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Emma Hardinge Britten: From ‘Art Magic’ – About The Mysteries Of Samothrace & Eleusis

‘Art magic’-1898 Chicago edition title page.


Today’s sharing from the Blue House of Via-HYGEIA is an excerpt from Emma Hardinge Britten’s ‘Art Magic’, a sort of compendium of the occult-lore edited by her on the text of ‘a friend who wanted to remain anonymous‘-but probably written mostly by her in 1876 and published privately after a successful fund-raising campaign in New York up to the amount of +400 copies. Our copy is from the 1898 edition, by the Progressive Thinker Publishing House in Chicago. Excerpts are from part II, section XVI, the opening. We will publish, soon, also some excerpts from her fascinating ‘Ghost Land’.


Picture from Emma Hardinge Britten in the mid 1860s.

A Little introduction

Emma Hardinge Britten (2 May 1823 – 2 October 1899) was an English advocate for the early Modern Spiritualist Movement. Much of her life and work was recorded and published in her speeches and writing and an incomplete autobiography edited by her sister. She is remembered as a writer, orator, trance clairvoyant, and spirit medium. Her books, Modern American Spiritualism (1870) and Nineteenth Century Miracles (1884), are detailed accounts of spiritualism in America. (Source: Wikipedia)


‘Magic in the classical lands of Greece and Rome becomes so thoroughly transformed from the solemn metaphysics of India, the semi-savagism of Arabia, and the profound mysticism of Egypt, by the young life, blossoming intellect, and love of the beautiful which characterized Grecian genius, and in a measure imparted its grace to the sterner spirit of Rome, that no attempt to condense descriptions of their spiritism could do justice to the subject.

On the other hand our available space has been too much taken up with analyses of the underlying principles of magical history in the Orient—the true fatherland of magic—either to permit of, or to need our dwelling at any length upon these fascinating themes, so clearly defined as the poetry of life’s sterner prose.

Magic, sorcery and the correspondingly dark shades of Spiritism, were not in harmony with the graceful and elastic character of classic lands. Their peoples loved philosophy, and revelled in the subtleties of thought, as portrayed through the brilliant ideality of those renowned Sages who spangled over the hemisphere of Greek and Roman history with stars of immortal lustre.

Strictly speaking, no well marked systems of religious belief prevailed in Greece and Rome. Their Pantheon of countless Gods and Goddesses were too closely allied with humanity to impress their votaries with the awe and majesty appropriate to the idea of Deity, and even their most exalted flights of imagination could not embody the creative principle in aught beyond an impersonated Demiurgus.

As we have already premised that we are not prepared in this place to render any justice to the abundant and mobile shapes in which spiritism was represented in classic lands, we shall limit the present notice to a brief account of certain specialties not found in former sections, illustrated by the famous mysteries of Eleusis, and the Sybilline women of Greece.


The Samothracian mysteries date back to the earliest periods of Grecian history, and attempts have been made to show, that in these veiled rites the use of the loadstone, the secret powers of electricity, and the twin fires of magnetism were brought into play, and hence arose the worship of the constellated Deities Castor and Pollux.

There is little cotemporaneous evidence, however, to show that the Samothracians possessed any practical knowledge of mineral magnetism, or understood the use of the loadstone, although they cherished a deep and superstitious reverence for its mysterious properties of attraction and repulsion.

The highest and most elaborate rites, a knowledge of which has descended to us from the days of antiquity, were those of Eleusis and Bacchus in Greece, and the Saturnalia of Rome. These, no less than the Samothracian rites, were unquestionably derived from Egypt, and as the Eleusinian mysteries probably afford the best representation of their famous Egyptian model, the Isiac and Osiriac mysteries, it is to a brief account of this famous pageant that we shall call our readers’ attention. So much has been written in fragments concerning these great mysteries, and the general tone of every description so invariably pre-supposes that the reader is already acquainted with the basic ideas upon which it discourses, that we deem it not out of place to present a consecutive statement of the myth, as well as the underlying principles upon which these mysteries were founded. For this purpose we avail ourselves of an admirable edition of Taylor’s ‘Eleusinian and Bacchic rites’, published by Dr. Alexander Wilder, of New York, in 1876. We quote an abridged account of the legend rendered by Minutius Felix, in Thomas Taylor’s translation. This author says:

“Proserpina, the daughter of Ceres by Jupiter, as she was gathering tender flowers, in the new spring, was ravished from her delightful abodes by Pluto, and being carried from thence through thick woods, and over a length of sea, was brought by Pluto into a cavern, the residence of departed spirits, over whom she afterwards ruled with absolute sway. But Ceres, upon discovering the loss of her daughter, with lighted torches, and begirt with a serpent, wandered over the whole earth for the purpose of finding her, till she came to Eleusis ; there she found her daughter, and also taught to the Eleusinians the cultivation of corn.”

Now in this fable, Ceres represents the evolution of that intuitional part of our nature which we properly denominate intellect, and Proserpina that living, self-moving, and animating part which we call soul. But in order to understand the secret meaning of this fable, it will be necessary to give a more explicit detail of the particulars attending the abduction, from the beautiful poem of Claudian on this subject. From this elegant production we learn that Ceres, who was afraid lest some violence should be offered to Proserpina, on account of her inimitable beauty, conveyed her privately to Sicily, and concealed her in a house built on purpose by the Cyclopes, while she herself directs her course to the temple of Cybele, the mother of the Gods. Here then we see the first cause of the soul’s descent, namely the abandoning of a life wholly according to the higher intellect, which is occultly signified by the separation of Proserpina from Ceres.

Afterward, we are told that Jupiter instructs Venus to go to this abode, and betray Proserpina from her retirement, that Pluto may be enabled to carry her away ; and to prevent any suspicion in the virgin’s mind, he commands Diana and Pallas to go in company. The three Goddesses arriving, find Proserpina at work on a scarf for her mother ; in which she had embroidered the primitive chaos, and the formation of the world. Now by Venus in this part of the narration we must understand desire, which, even in the celestial regions (for such is the residence of Proserpina till she is ravished by Pluto), begins silently and stealthily to creep into the recesses of the soul. By Minerva we must conceive the rational power of the soul and by Diana, nature, or the merely natural and vegetable part of our composition ; both which are now ensnared through the allurements of desire. And lastly, the web in which Proserpina had displayed all the fair variety of the material world, beautifully represents the commencement of the illusive operations through which the soul becomes ensnared with the beauty of imaginative forms.

Proserpina, forgetful of her parent’s commands, is represented as venturing from her retreat, through the treacherous persuasions of Venus.  After this we behold her issuing on the plain with’ Minerva and Diana, and attended by a beauteous train of nymphs, who are evident symbols of the world of generation, and are, therefore, the proper companions of the soul about to fall into its fluctuating realms. But the design of Proserpina, in venturing from her re treat, is beautifully significant other approaching descent; for she rambles from home for the purpose of gathering flowers ; and this in a lawn replete with the most enchanting variety, and exhaling the most delicious odors. This is a manifest image of the soul operating principally according to the natural and external life, and so becoming effeminated and ensnared through the delusive attractions of sensible form. Minerva (the rational faculty in this case), likewise gives herself wholly to the dangerous employment, and abandons the proper characteristics of her nature for the destructive revels of desire.

After this, Pluto, forcing his passage through the earth, seizes on Proserpina, and carries her away with him, notwithstanding the resistance of Minerva and Diana. They, indeed, are forbid by Jupiter, who in this place signifies Fate, to attempt her deliverance. Pluto hurries Proserpina into the infernal regions : in other words, the soul is sunk into the profound depth and darkness of a material nature. A description of her marriage next succeeds her union with the dark tenement of the body.

Night is with great beauty and propriety introduced as standing by the nuptial couch, and confirming the oblivious league. For the soul through her union with a material body becomes an inhabitant of darkness, and subject to the empire of night ; in consequence of which she dwells wholly with delusive phantoms, and till she breaks her fetters is deprived of the intuitive perception of that which is real and true.” The reader may observe how Proserpina, being represented as confined in the dark recess of a prison, and bound with fetters, confirms the explanation of the fable here given as symbolical of the descent of the soul ; for such, as we have already largely proved, is the condition of the soul from its union with the body, according to the uniform testimony of the most ancient philosophers and priests.

After this, the wanderings of Ceres for the discovery of Proserpina commence. Begirt with a serpent, and bearing two lighted torches in her hands, she commences her search by night in a car drawn by dragons. The tears and lamentations of Ceres, in her course, are symbolical both of the providential operations of intellect about a mortal nature, and the miseries with which such operations are attended. These sacred rites occupied the space of nine days in their celebration ; and this, doubtless, because, according to Homer, (“Hymn to Ceres. ” For nine days did holy Demeter perambulate the earth . .and when the ninth shining morn had come, Hecate met her, bringing news.” Apuleius also explains that at the initiation into the Mysteries of Isis the candidate was enjoined to abstain from luxurious food for ten days, from the flesh of animals, and from wine.): this Goddess did not discover the residence of her daughter till the expiration of that period. Hence the first day of initiation into these mystic rites was called agurmos,  i. e, according to Hesychius, an assembly, and all collecting together.

After this, the soul falls from the tropic of Cancer into the planet Saturn ; and to this the second day of initiation was consecrated, when they called ‘to the sea, ye initiated ones !’ because, says Meursius, on that day the crier was accustomed to admonish the mystae to betake themselves to the sea. Now the meaning of this will be easily understood, by considering that, according to the arcana of the ancient theology, as may be learned from Proclus, the whole planetary system is under the dominion of Neptune. Hence when the soul falls into the planet Saturn, which Capella compares to a river voluminous, sluggish, and cold, she then first merges herself into fluctuating matter, of which water is an ancient and significant symbol. But the eighth day of initiation, which is symbolical of the falling of the soul into the lunar orb, was celebrated by the candidates by a repeated initiation and second sacred rites ; because the soul in this situation is about to bid adieu to everything of a celestial nature ; to sink into a perfect oblivion of her divine origin and pristine felicity ; and to rush profoundly into the region of ignorance and error ( The condition most unlike the former divine estate). And lastly, on the ninth day, when the soul falls into the sublunary world and becomes united with a terrestrial body, a libation was performed, such as is usual in sacred rites.

Here the Initiates, filling two earthen vessels sacred to Bacchus, they placed one towards the east, and the other towards the west. And the first of these was doubtless, according to the interpretation of Proclus, sacred to the earth, and symbolical of the soul proceeding from an orbicular figure, or divine form, into a conical defluxion and terrene situation ( An orbicular figure symbolized the maternal, and a cone the masculine divine
Energy); but the other was sacred to the soul, and symbolical of its celestial origin ; since our intellect is the legitimate progeny of Bacchus. And this too was occultly signified by the position of the earthen vessels ; for, according to a mundane distribution of the divinities, the eastern centre of the universe, which is analogous to fire, belongs to Jupiter, and the western to Pluto, who governs the earth, because the west is allied to earth on account of its dark and nocturnal nature.

Again, according to Clemens Alexandrinus, the following confession was made by the new Initiate in these sacred rites, in answer to the interrogations of the Hierophant : “I have fasted ; I have drank the Cyceon ; I have taken out of the Cista, and placed what I have taken out into the Calathus ; and alternately I have taken out of the Calathus and put into the Cista.’

We may easily perceive the meaning of the mystic confession, ‘have fasted ; I have drank a mingled potion’, etc.; for by the former part of the assertion, no more is meant than that the higher intellect, previous to imbibing of oblivion through the deceptive arts of a corporeal life, abstains from all material concerns, and does not mingle itself with even the necessary delights of the body. And as to the latter part, it alludes to the descent of Proserpina to Hades, and her re-ascent to the abodes of her mother Ceres : that is. to the outgoing and return of the Soul, alternately falling into generation, and ascending thence into the intelligible world, and becoming perfectly restored to her divine and intellectual nature. For the Cista contained the most arcane symbols of the Mysteries, into which it was unlawful for the profane to look. As to its contents, ( a golden serpent, an egg, and the phallus. The epopt looking upon these, was rapt with awe as contemplating in the symbols the deeper mysteries of all life, or being of a grosser temper, took a lascivious impression. Thus as a seer, he beheld with the eyes of sense or sentiment ; and the real apocalypse was therefore that made to himself of his own moral life and character), we learn from the hymn of Callimachus to Ceres, that they were formed from gold, which, from its incorruptibility, is an evident symbol of an immaterial nature. And as to the Calathus, or basket, this, as we are told by Claudian, was filled with the spoils or fruits of the fields which are manifest symbols of a life corporeal and earthly. So that the candidate, by confessing that he had taken from the Cista, and placed what he had taken into the Calathus, and the contrary, occultly acknowledged the descent of his soul from a condition of being supra material and immortal, into one material and mortal ; and that, on the contrary, by living according to the purity which the Mysteries inculcated, he should re-ascend to that perfection of his nature, from which he had unhappily fallen.”


Throughout this curious fable it must be borne in mind that the Egyptians, Greeks, and all ancient as well as classic nations believed in the doctrines recited in the earlier sections of this work, namely : that the Soul had once existed in a purely spiritual state ; that, tempted by the demands of sense, it had yearned for mortal birth —descended or fallen into an earthly condition, and by its probationary sufferings and trials on earth, regained the Paradisaical bliss from which it had fallen. These ideas are represented in the myth of Proserpine, and constituted the chief legend of all the ancient mysteries. At the point, however, where our quotations cease, it is proper to state that the drama proceeds after a fashion, the direct simplicity of which is a part of that arcanum wherein the ancients represented the Soul’s alliance with and birth into material form through earthly generation.

The plainness of speech and characteristic nature of the symbols employed, would prove revolting to our modern sense of propriety ; but most learned commentators admit that the ancients sought to strengthen the Soul against sensual indulgence by familiarizing the mind with ideas and forms connected with sensual rites. Iamblichus excuses this part of the mysteries, and especially the dramatic scenes which depict the descent of the Soul into earth through human generation, by saying:

“Exhibitions of this kind in the Mysteries were designed to free us from licentious passions, by gratifying the sight, and at the same time vanquishing desire, through the awful sanctity with which these rites were accompanied ; for the proper way of freeing ourselves from the passions is—first, to indulge them with moderation, by which means they become satisfied ; listen, as it were, to persuasion, and passion may thus be entirely removed.”

The mysteries were divided into two sections, of which the first or lesser mysteries were mere rudimentary states, during which the Neophyte was supposed to undergo those embryonic conditions necessary to prepare him for the higher revelations of the great mysteries. In the first, the candidate was called a Mysta, or ‘veiled one’; in the second, he became an Epopta, or Seer, and was henceforth deemed exalted to the highest attainable knowledge of human life and destiny, and the highest condition of purity which ceremonial rites could typify.

The chief aim in these celebrations was to impress the Neophyte throughout, with the sacredness and divine significance of life, generation, the generative functions, and all the rites and symbols thereto belonging.

The ministering priests were all persons of the purest lives and most ascetic habits. Their garments and vessels were consecrated, their ornaments of the most splendid character, and ”their performances dignified with a lofty bearing impossible to be described.” All who took part in these rites were required to be of pure life and unspotted name. No notoriously evil doer could be admitted even to the lesser mysteries, and every candidate was required to observe long fasts, strict asceticism, prepare for the ceremonies by ablutions, and many purifications, and present themselves unspotted in mind, body and garments, and crowned with freshly gathered wreaths of myrtle.

The Temple devoted to this purpose was vast and gorgeous. It was full of magnificent halls, solemn crypts, long galleries, winding passages ascending and descending, fearful precipices, steep rocks and gloomy caverns. The whole order of these wonderful buildings was designed to typify the procession of the Soul’s spiritual origin, descent into matter, its struggles, trials, temptations, new birth, final regeneration, and re-ascent to the supernal glories of the Elysian realms, from which it was assumed to have fallen. During the rites, the Neophyte was con*ducted through scenes most terrible to endure, most trying to all the senses. Sometimes he was enveloped in thick darkness, and assailed with shrieks, groans; wails and lamentations, symbolical of the despairing condition of the lost Souls peering through flames and torments in the realms of Pluto.

Peals of crashing thunder distracted him with terror; forked lightnings gleamed fitfully through darksome abodes, revealing the forms of hissing serpents, ferocious beasts, and sheeted spectres, doomed to perdition.

One of the final scenes of this tremendous Drama, was the descent of the appalled Neophyte through a rifted rock designed to typify the Yoni, and thence through a rough and narrow cleft, the struggling victim emerged into a fearful and unknown realm, the perils of which he could only surmise by the awful stillness around him, broken by low groans and convulsive sobs, designed to signify the agonies oi new birth, and a physical process of regeneration. Drawn through the sacred waters of a new baptism, and borne onward by invisible conductors, the half dead Initiate was left for awhile to repose after the tremendous struggle of final emergement through the stony matrix. It was unquestionably from this great central idea of the ancient mysteries that the Christians have derived their doctrines of the new birth and regeneration ; words which, to all but true Initiates, are merely words, and significant of nothing more than a senseless mystery.

After the great final trial, the Soul, by passing through the allegorical new birth, was deemed to have become spotless and innocent as a babe. Holy hymns were chanted, eloquent appeals to the Initiate’s constancy and virtue were uttered ; he was ushered into a magnificent Temple, where a colossal image of the glorious Maternal Goddess burst upon his sight, surrounded with all the pageantry and pomp of Grecian luxury, art, and splendor. Scenes of dazzling beauty and supernal glory opened upon his ravished vision. Exquisite representations of the Elysian fields allured him to ramble amidst their flowery glades. Forms of unearthly loveliness surrounded him ; strains of delicious music and songs of penetrating sweetness filled his soul with rapture, and lifted him up to ecstasy.

Many of the noblest Sages of antiquity passing through these stupendous rites, have affirmed, that their eyes beheld the forms of the Gods, looked upon heavenly scenes, dazzling suns, blazing stars, and figures of resplendent glory that were not of this earth. Visions of the blest in their abodes of Paradise glanced before them, and triumphant lyrics were heard chanted by no mortal lips. Why should we doubt these repeated assertions of the great, the wise, and the inspired ones of old ? On the contrary, is it possible to imagine that any truly sensitive nature could partake of such scenes without unfolding to a higher life and more exalted powers than they had ever enjoyed before ?

The physical nature was under complete subjection. The magnetic life of powerful Adepts permeated the air, and filled the Temple with Astral light and life.

The invocations, prayers and fervent aspirations poured forth by the Neophytes, must have charged the Temple spaces with Soul aura, and transformed it into a spirit sphere. If there was a spark of luminosity in the Souls of those who toiled through these tremendous initiatory processes, they must have been enkindled into celestial flame then or never, and it is equally impossible to conceive of the existence of spiritual realms, and suppose their inhabitants were not attracted to their earthly loves, and the subjects of their tenderest care and ministry in these hours of exaltation and trial. The Soul’s powers must have been quickened, the spiritual senses must have been awakened, and it could not be otherwise than a true season of new birth or regeneration.

And thus it was that so many Initiates came forth from these mysteries changed both in body and mind ; hence, that so many regarded them with a reverence unspeakable, and memories so hallowed, that it left an impress on the entire of their after lives. Neither can we wonder that it was the policy of governments to uphold these sacred mysteries; of legislators to constitute them one of the most essential portions of ancient theocratic institutions.’


More about Emma Hardinge Britten:
Emma Hardinge Britten: From ‘Art Magic’ – About The Mysteries Of Samothrace & Eleusis

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